Thursday, December 11, 2008

After the fall

The normal thing to do would have been to cordon off the section of the battlefield where Bheeshma lay on his bed of arrows. But since he had fallen on a spot right in the heart of Kurukshetra, this wasn’t feasible (try playing football with the centre circle completely out of bounds). Then someone suggested moving him elsewhere, but this too was problematic – the arrows were deeply embedded in the earth, and besides, all the talk about this particular patch of ground being Bheeshma’s “karma-bhoomi” would have made a shift awkward. One didn’t want sages buzzing about the place, yelling about protocol and generally disturbing the peace while the war was still on.
“Never mind, we’ll continue fighting around him,” said Drona, “just keep those elephants away.” So for the next eight days foot-soldiers tiptoed nimbly about the grandsire’s body even as they parried their enemies’ thrusts and blows. Unfortunately a couple of the servants hired to fan the pitamah and provide him with refreshments had their heads lopped off by stray arrows, but this was treated as collateral damage. The bigger problem was that as the war grew more intense, the facade of respect began to peel away. In the afternoons, when tiredness set in, soldiers developed the habit of resting their swords against the arrows sticking out of Bheeshma’s chest, and even taking a quick nap under his shadow. Some of the cheekier ones exchanged vulgar jokes – about how the old man had finally got "laid" at the age of 90 – within his earshot. 
“I’m no longer sure that celibacy oath was worth it in the end,” the aged scion of the Kurus thought to himself as he sipped on some flavoured Ganga-jal, “but at least the service is good.”


  1. There's no way Bheeshma was 90 years young at the time of the Kuru war.

    Suppose he was 25 yrs old at the time of taking his vow.
    50 - when Vichitravirya died.
    80 - when Pandu died

    The Kuru princes were probably in their mid forties at the time of the war. (a conservative estimate)
    That puts Bheeshma's lifespan in the range of 120-130 :D

  2. shrikanth: why do you assume he was 25 when the oath happened? 18 is more likely, which could put him in his late 30s when Vichitravirya died, and so on. Iravati Karve did a rough "realistic" calculation in Yuganta and figured he could be in his early 90s during the war.

    But all that aside, did you really think this post was meant as a history lesson? (I hope it doesn't spawn a bunch of serious comments now from Mahabharat-literalists who claim Bheeshma was 167 years, 4 months and 12 days old when he died!)

  3. I should clarify that I know your comment was meant lightly - but it's quite scary the number of people out there who are willing to get pedantic about all this. On a Rediff comments exchange (where else?) I noticed a lengthy post by someone who explained in great detail how old every character was and meticulously dated incidents in the epic, occasionally backing them up with "scientific evidence". (Example: the false sunset that preceded Jayadratha's death being a record of a real solar eclipse that took place on the 14th day of the war!)

  4. That 1 rocks.....but soldiers, I'd think would generally desist stepping into that area 'cos not all of that Gangajal would have turned to vapor and sweat.
    And is there ever a mention about his last itch.....I mean the battlefield, the grime and the dust from the stalwarts farting in between the fighting, must surely have wanted to itch.....good service would have definitely helped.....
    You must also consider the fact that lack of activity for so long would have done no good to his general health.....Did they have medical insurances back then?

  5. I meant it lightly ofcourse.
    Btw, commented on an old post -'Hithcock's fetishes and Pauline Kael'

  6. jay: you should definitely write a version of this story. Incidentally, your comment reminds me that Aviva Life Insurance is one of the sponsors for Ekta Kapoor's Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharat Ki - with the sponsor announcement accompanied by a shot of the insurance company's logo in the foreground of a battlefield scene.

    shrikanth: I know, I saw...will try to reply at length if I get the time.

  7. You forgot about the one hour a week they had to shut down the war so Bheeshma could have his session with his shrink in peace.

  8. Jai, Ekta Kapoor's "Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharat Ki" amuses you no end, doesn't it?

    - Ankur.

  9. "disturbing the peace while the war was still on"
    laugh out loud.

  10. didn't you know?
    Bheeshma was 167 years, 4 months and 12 days old when he died.

    just out of curiosity though, what prompted you to write this MB vignette?

  11. Falstaff: they couldn't have the sessions after sundown? It was only on the 14th day that the war continued into the night. *Sudden vision of Bheeshma's psychiatrist being fried to a crisp by Ghatotkacha's dragon-fire*

    Ankur: yes, and why not, it's such a great show! But this post doesn't have anything to do with Kahaani....

    Piyush: or alternately, "You can't fight in here - this is the War Room!" from Dr Strangelove.

    Vedang: I was watching YouTube videos of B R Chopra's Mahabharata and felt suddenly impelled to write flash fiction.

  12. How about adding this - Some soldiers hid behind Bheeshma using him as a cover while attacking the opponents.

    Wondering what the flavour of the Ganga-jal was.

  13. J'wock: Nah. They tried, but it turned out to be easier to just reschedule the war than to meddle with Dr. Kleindorfer's calendar.

    As a matter of fact Dr. Kleindorfer did actually get fried to a crisp, but contrary to popular legend, it had nothing to do with demon halitosis - it was just that the full Freudian significance of Bheeshma ending his days in a bed made of out 'arrows' fired at him by a strapping young man finally hit him one day and his brain spontaneously combusted.

  14. Jai, is it true that Drona ordered the elephants to be kept away? I know the post is meant in jest but seriously i had never thought how the war kept happening when the Grandsire had fallen in the midst of a battlefield?

    Probably they just shifted the whole war some metres away, much like barricading Delhi Roads due to umpteen construction works.On the point of Bheeshma's age , who cares? the very fact that he was still the greatest warrior of them all in ripe old age, points to the fact that celibacy had its merits.

    Anyways 'Mukesh Khanna' in his melodramatic hamming had made him seem like 300 years old in the Tele-serial.